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Easton Cowan is a chance for the Leafs to make up for missing out on Travis Konecny in 2015

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Photo credit:twitter.com/londonknights
Alex Hobson
1 month ago
When you look at the Leafs’ prospect pool, nobody has made headlines in 2023-24 the way Easton Cowan has. Despite lots of people being caught off guard when he was initially selected, considering where he was projected to go, he’s done just about everything in his power to take names and prove his doubters wrong. 
Originally supposed to go in the third round, or late-second round at best, there wasn’t a single analyst or draft expert who was expecting to hear Cowan’s name called in the first round back in June. Heck, Cowan himself didn’t expect it. If you go back and watch the video of the Maple Leafs making the selection, he and his family are seated in the furthest possible corner of Bridgestone Arena in Nashville (although, that didn’t stop the sound of his family’s excited cheers from carrying down to the stage). 
To be fair to the hundreds of people who are currently being proven wrong, Cowan didn’t look like a first-rounder at the forefront. He was a late bloomer in the OHL, playing only seven games for the Knights in 2021-22 and spending the majority of the season with the Junior B Komoka Kings of the GOJHL. That meant that his rookie season with the Knights was also his draft year, and while 53 points in 68 games on the year is certainly impressive for your first kick at the can, he didn’t seem to have the pedigree of a first-round pick. 
Boy, were I and many others wrong about that. 
With 30 goals and 87 points in 47 games in 2022-23, it already looks like Cowan has taken a giant leap forward, and that’s without mentioning his record-breaking 29-game point streak he’s currently riding. The last time he was held pointless was on November 24th, 2023, and he has 55 points during that span with 17 of those 29 games coming in the form of a multi-point effort. I’d compare his effort to putting up video game numbers, but don’t think I ever even reached that pace while playing Be a Pro mode in NHL 13. I had a chance to speak to the London Knights’ in-game host over the summer, who had some great things to say about the Mount Brydges native.
Cowan’s pace throughout the 2023-24 season has been fun to cover, but not just because of his point streak and offence surrounding it. He’s tenacious and works harder than just about anyone on the ice, and he’s a total menace on the penalty kill as well. Of his 21 goals through this 29-game span, a third of the goals he’s scored are shorthanded. His game this season and the intangibles he’s brought this year remind me a lot of what you get out of Philadelphia Flyers forward Travis Konecny. If you’ve watched the Leafs and paid attention to the draft for the past ten years at least, you know that the team already has a connection to Konecny, and not in a great way.
Let’s rewind to the 2015 draft. The Leafs had officially cut ties with former general manager Dave Nonis, the team had just been given the green light to rebuild from newly-appointed President Brendan Shanahan, and the team handed over the reins to then-assistant GM Kyle Dubas and director of player development Mark Hunter at the draft. From what I remember at the time, Dubas was in charge of trade negotiations, and Hunter was overseeing the draft itself. 
Outside of the obvious Connor McDavid-Jack Eichel sweepstakes, the draft class itself was touted as one of the deepest in recent memory, at least since 2003. The Leafs had the fourth overall pick and the 24th overall pick with a real opportunity to beef up a prospect pool that was in shambles. They selected Mitch Marner with the fourth overall pick, which has turned out okay, I would say. Then came the 24th pick, and if you were watching the draft on TV, the “pick is in” emblem never came up on the screen. They swung a pair of deals, first with the Philadelphia Flyers, then with the Columbus Blue Jackets, and essentially turned the 24th overall pick into the 34th, 61st, and 68th picks. Meanwhile, the Flyers ended up with Konecny at 24th overall. 
In hindsight, I don’t blame Dubas and the Leafs for swinging those trades. William Nylander was their only prospect of note at that time, and given how stacked the 2015 draft class was, prioritizing quantity over quality made sense at the time. If anything, I think the blame mostly falls on the scouting staff. If the Leafs walked away from the draft with Sebastian Aho (taken 35th overall), Anthony Cirelli (taken 72nd overall), and Adin Hill (taken 78th overall), instead of Travis Dermott (34th), Jeremy Bracco (61st), and Martins Dzierkals (68th), we probably aren’t having a revisionist history conversation about the 24th overall pick. That said, if you go back and look at the players taken around Bracco and Dzierkals, there’s much less talent to pick from outside of the names I listed.
All that being said, nine years later, the Leafs might have a chance to right their wrongs after passing on Konecny in 2015.
Both Cowan and Konecny are short but stocky forwards. The former stands at 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds at 18 years old, the latter was measured at 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds at the same age. Both players play with tenacity, with Cowan sitting at 62 PIMS (penalty minutes) on the season through 47 games and Konecny at 57 through 57 games. They also both kill penalties, although that’s a somewhat recent development in Konecny’s case. He only started being utilized shorthanded last season. 
The leg up that Konecny has on Cowan is his draft-year production. Konecny had 68 points in 60 OHL games, and Cowan’s point production wasn’t quite at that level. Still, the latter’s path to the league has been somewhat unconventional at this point, and on the flip side of that, his production in his post-draft season has blown the former’s pace out of the water. Either way, Konecny’s been able to make a name for himself in the league as a top-six forward and despite some issues staying healthy in recent years, is the type of player other GMs drool over trading for. That said, despite three different general managers overseeing the team since he was drafted and the number of struggles the Flyers have faced since, with only one playoff run to speak of, they’ve never pivoted to trading him. 
Just as a little disclaimer, because some people tend to take pieces like this the wrong way, I’m not saying Cowan is guaranteed going to be as good as Konecny. I’m not saying he’s going to be better. And I’m certainly not saying anyone should expect the same. But, you can see the similarities in their style of game and body types, and they’ve got a relatively similar OHL pedigree. And given the amount of cap space the Leafs’ core four is going to take up next season, fans may have an opportunity to see what Cowan is capable of sooner rather than later.

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